Sjors Scheres, Group Leader and joint Head of Division of the LMB’s Structural Studies Division, has been awarded the Royal Society’s Leeuwenhoek Medal and invited to deliver the Leeuwenhoek Lecture. This award, named after the Dutch microscopist Antonie van Leeuwenhoek – a Fellow of the Royal Society who is often described as “the Father of Microbiology” – is given biennially and rewards excellence in the fields of microbiology, bacteriology, virology, mycology, parasitology, and microscopy.
Specifically, Sjors has been recognised for his contributions to the development of image analysis and reconstruction methods in electron cryo-microscopy (cryo-EM). His image processing software, run through the computer programme RELION and used across the world, reconstructs three-dimensional structures from protein molecule images taken with electron microscopes. This methodological innovation has allowed for the structure determination of complex molecules to an atomic level, a record-breaking resolution for cryo-EM.
This software has already provided for hugely significant biological breakthroughs. For instance, in collaboration with Michel Goedert’s group in our Neurobiology Division, Sjors’ group has solved the structure of tau filaments (a protein which contributes to numerous neurodegenerative diseases) from patients with Alzheimer’s disease, and has since solved the distinct structures of tau filaments from numerous more related diseases, including corticobasal degeneration (CBD), Pick’s disease and chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE). These discoveries hold huge medical implications for the development of tracer compounds that could be used to diagnose and distinguish different tauopathies and disease-specific therapies.
Sjors’ methodological developments began during his PhD at Utrecht University, where he developed a loose-atom refinement method for protein crystallography. He graduated to image processing tools for cryo-EM during his post-doctoral fellowship at CNB-CSIC in Madrid where he introduced maximum-likelihood classification algorithms. He joined the LMB as a Group Leader in 2010, where he has remained at the forefront of the field.
On receiving the Leeuwenhoek Medal, Sjors commented: “I am thrilled and honoured to receive this award, which is named after such an inspiring fellow Dutch scientist, who pioneered the use of microscopes to look at the processes of life. I am also extremely grateful to my wonderful colleagues, as reaching atomic resolution by cryo-EM structure determination or solving structures of amyloids from human brain would not have been possible without their essential contributions.”